The coaching staff of a high school football team rocked by charges of sexual assault and hazing has been suspended.
The Sayreville Board of Education suspended head coach George Najjar and four assistants with pay at its meeting Tuesday night.
They were originally suspended a week ago; the vote upheld the superintendent's decision.
Seven members of the Sayreville War Memorial High School team have been charged with crimes ranging from hazing to aggravated sexual assault over what happened last month. Their names haven't been released because they are under 18.
The school's football season has been canceled.
Emotions ran high at Tuesday's meeting. Numerous current and former players gave statements in support of Najjar, who has built the school's football program into a regional power.
Former NFL player Brandon Hoyte, who graduated from Sayreville in 2001, appeared to present a petition with more than 800 signatures, pleading with the board not to fire Najjar.
"I am telling you, the only reason I've experienced any success is because of Coach Najjar," he said.
"In three days, we have over 800 signatures, we have over 200 personal statements," he said.
Najjar didn't comment before the meeting.
The suspensions remain temporary; the board will consider comments from Tuesday's meeting before they decide whether to fire him permanently.
Prosecutors say the students who've been charged attacked four other students between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29 and one of the victims was kicked.
As what would have been game time on the planned homecoming night neared last Friday, the lights at Sayreville War Memorial High football stadium stayed off and the field remained empty.
Parents in the township have complained that the whole team is being punished.
Schools Superintendent Richard Labbe has stood by his decision to cancel the rest of the football season and has said the time has come for students and others to step forward when bullying occurs. He said the district has launched a harassment, intimidation and bullying investigation of all its athletic teams.
He said Tuesday, "This evening, we took another wrenching yet important and necessary step in demonstrating to this great community that the safety of students is our highest priority."
Others at the meeting thought the board and the superintendent should have done more to offer anti-bullying training to the coaches and staff.
"I believe it was the responsibility of the board and the superintendent to provide us with the resources," said volunteer coach Robert Girardi. "You failed on your end."